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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Passover - Pesach

Nissan

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The great month of Nissan is now almost upon us. The rainy winter, such as it was, is ending and the signs of spring are beginning to appear. Nissan is a special month in the calendar of the Jewish people. Because the wondrous holiday of Pesach appears in the middle of the month, the celebration of this special month begins even at its onset. No penitential prayers are recited during this month nor are memorial prayers and eulogies allowed. It is a month of renewal and redemption, of optimism and hope. The bad events of the past are not to be dwelled upon and the Jewish gaze is to be forward and hopeful. The Torah tells us that "you go forth now in this month of springtime." The Jewish calendar itself is purposely adjusted (seven leap months in every nineteen year cycle) to allow Pesach always to fall in the spring season in the Land of Israel. If it were not for this imperative, the calendar could be a purely lunar one, with the holidays wandering around the year continuously, a fact that is clearly apparent in the purely lunar calendar of the Moslem world. Springtime and Pesach deliver the same message of renewal, new energy and an emergence into a new time of opportunity for creativity and accomplishment. He Torah and nature form a harmonious pair, each meant to comment and explain and reinforce the values and teachings of the other. This idea is no more evident than in the qualities and uniqueness of the month of Nissan.

This year of 5769 the month of Nissan contains within it another special natural feature - birkhat hachama - the blessing of the sun. This blessing and ceremony takes place every twenty-eight years, always on a Wednesday, this time on erev Pesach April 8. The celestial cycle of twenty eight years aligns the sun and the adjacent planets and moons in our solar galaxy in approximately the same positions that they were relative to each other at the time of creation. Through the simple blessing that we make on that morning - oseh maaseh bereshith - that the Lord has done and continues even now to create our universe, we acknowledge the fact of creation and the existence of our Creator. It is an affirmation of Judaism’s cardinal belief in God and in His creation of our universe. This year it serves as a fitting introduction to the Pesach seder which will take place that night since the seder affirms the further attribute of God, so to speak, which Judaism emphasizes - the unique guidance by Him of the people of Israel and its special role in human events and history. Thus this month of Nissan represents the two strands of thought and belief within Judaism - the universal and general and the particular and national. It is the representation of these two seemingly disparate views of God’s role, so to speak, in human affairs that delineates Judaism from other faiths. The Jewish God is the God of all, of nature and the entire universe, while simultaneously being the God of Israel and the Jewish people. And this also an important lesson of the month of Nissan to us.

The month of Nissan opens for us a portal to gaze at spiritual greatness. It allows us to see God’s hand, so to speak, in human affairs and especially in human history. It also gives us a sense of how God metes out justice in this world to nations and individuals. Sometimes, as in the case of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, this judgment is public, well-known and irrefutable, not given to denial and/or interpretation. Other times it is not quite visible, understandable or immediate. But the Torah teaches us that it is always present. In Avot we read that the heavenly court’s messengers appear daily on this earth to collect from we humans what we owe to the heavenly court of justice and retribution. But we rejoice in Nissan because that month reveals for us in stark detail the exactitude of God’s judgments and the truth of His justice. Nissan therefore stands as a vindication of our belief in a just yet inscrutable God. That is perhaps why the Torah made Nissan the first of all months, not only in chronology but in symbolism and education as well. This month was given by God to us as a gift as it is written: "This month is yours." It is ours to teach us to recognize these fundamental ideas of Judaism as outlined above. May it yet prove this year to be a time of spiritual and physical redemption as well.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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